Unconventional Medicine: Breath, Yoga, and Meditation

Take deep, mindful breaths and call me in the morning…. What if that was your prescription for wellness?

A recent issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine includes a research letter titled, “When Conventional Medical Providers Recommend Unconventional Medicine: Results of a National Study.” The letter begins by citing an increase in the proportion of Americans using complementary and alternative medicine between 2002 and 2007, with most of the increase (75%) due to mind-body therapies. The study compares self-referrals and medical provider-referrals for mind-body therapies (such as deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation, among others).

Over the past year, I’ve had the amazing privilege of teaching yoga and mindful breathing with medical research studies that are investigating the possible benefits of these embodied practices. I’m very aware that this represents a small corner of the research world, and that medicine does not yet have much of a vocabulary to describe what they’re about. (I certainly like “mind-body therapies” better than “unconventional medicine,” although that has an edgy, creative ring to it that I enjoy.)

According to this analysis of data from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), deep breathing exercises were the most common provider-referred mind-body therapy used. Followed by meditation, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery. Most telling, the letter comments: “Our data suggest that conventional health care providers treating sicker patients with more frequent office visits may offer referrals for [mind-body therapies] as a last resort once conventional therapeutic options have been exhausted or have failed.”

What if deep breathing, yoga and meditation were an earlier step, or even offered as routine, preventive care rather than a last-ditch, what’s-to-lose attempt? What if current research were to show that breath and body awareness work as well (or better than) drugs or other interventions…. Wouldn’t we want to know about this? Wouldn’t we choose this? Pharmaceutical companies would never go for it (since your deep breath is free), but wouldn’t we want to learn these practices?

…take deep, mindful breaths.




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